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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chatting With Tony Danza About His New Act, the Ukulele, and Certain Elton John Lyrics

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 3:30 PM

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For the first time in his life, Tony Danza has a mustache.

“I’m actually doing an episode of Broad City, playing Abby’s father,” he told SF Weekly. “I have a mustache, cause I wanted to look like my father. I’m looking at [a picture of] him right now, and I swear I look like him. And if I put on glasses, well, holy crap!”

The sitcom actor — and Broadway star, author, tap dancer, and one-time boxer — is in his 60s now, and still getting by on the same infectious charm that helped his alter ego Tony Micelli talk his way into the Connecticut home of a high-powered ad exec named Angela, and her sexually active mother.

Tony Danza brings his show, Standards & Stories, to Feinstein’s this weekend for three nights. It’s something of a retrospective, sprinkled with anecdotes from a long career that began when the Rat Pack was still alive and working, and it is, in Danza’s words, a “grown-up act.”

“I’ve done my live act for a number of years now,” he said. “I’ve always fancied myself as sort of a saloon singer. I do a lot of schtick, a lot of comedy, get a bunch of laughs in, and earn a song. Most of the singing was medleys; I do a Louis Prima thing. These guys came to us and said, ‘We want you to do a grown-up show at the Carlyle [Hotel, in New York], dispense with the schtick, and portray a different character’ than I’ve done before.”

While Feinstein’s is a classic cabaret venue, Danza has a band and not just a piano accompaniment. The show includes a bit of tap, and he even plays the ukulele (making him a triple threat!).

“It’s the greatest thing ever, ever, ever,” he said. “I like to adapt the American Songbook to the ukulele. My last show, I did ‘Harlem Nocturne’ with words by Mel Tormé. It went over pretty good. Of course, I’m thinking of playing ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’ It’s a wonderful instrument, the ukulele, very soothing.”

Although the world is sufficiently awash in ‘80s nostalgia that Full House has been resurrected, and Alyssa Milano recently hinted at the possibility, there are no plans for any Who’s the Boss? reunion — even though the cast still stays in close touch.

“You’re with people during those years, such a formative time of your life,” Danza said. “If not for that show, I don’t know what else. What is it, off the air 23 years?”

But Danza isn’t wrapping things up, not by a long shot. He’s workshopping a one-act play he’s written (his first) about two brothers and their mother. While originally intended to be a vehicle for himself, he aged out of the part and had to cast it instead. But he’s satisfied with the progress so far.

“We had a reading, and I was proud,” he said. “You know why I was excited? I invited my doorman. The doorman sobbed. If I can make the doorman cry, maybe I can move some other people.”

And when it comes to some garbled Elton John lyrics about a certain blue-jean baby, L.A. lady, and seamstress for the band, not only does Tony Danza think it’s hilarious — he made a Funny or Die video about it — he clued me in to the origins. (It came from Phoebe on Season 3 of Friends.) When I inform him that the day Sir Elton headlined Outside Lands last month, there were at least two bros walking around Golden Gate Park with “Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza” T-shirts, he almost can’t believe it.

That same goofy sense of “Who, me?” appears to be a career-long sentiment, both in his work and out of it. Danza seems genuinely awestruck by his life.

“With material you love doing, and that the audience is responding to, it’s like being in a high-stakes card game, and you have all the cards,” he said. “I would just stand there. It’s such a thrill.”

Tony Danza: Standards & Stories, Friday-Sunday, Sept. 18-20, $80-$95, at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Hyde, 415-394-1100.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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